Playtime is fun. Electronics and circuit boards? Not so much — until now.
littleBits is an open-source library of color-coded electronic modules — miniscule circuit boards with specific functions, such as light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, motors and more — that snap together via tiny magnets in order to make larger circuits. There is no programming, wiring or soldering.
As one would imagine, these simple, intuitive blocks promote limitless experimentation, prototyping and learning and have been dubbed the “Legos for the iPad generation.” Projects range from sound-activated bowties to self-scrolling sheet music.
“It’s more this idea of democratizing electronics and putting the power of electronics in everyone’s hands,” says founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir.
The company upholds a firm commitment to open innovation and wants to help create the next generation of inventors by making electronics a fully accessible material for both children and adults — artists, designers and explorers alike. Everything is open sourced.
And as Bdeir explained in her 2012 TED Talk, electronics should be just another transformable building material, not unlike paper or wood. Now, the toy industry has embraced littleBits as an educational toy.
Part of what makes littleBits so intuitive for everyone is that it breaks down complex and abstract concepts — electricity, for one — into tangible, color-coded blocks.
“There’s a brick that’s light, and a brick that’s sound, and a brick that’s a sensor, and you can build it within seconds without having any background in engineering whatsoever,” she says.
“It’s really important that we are able to understand how electricity works — how a light comes on, how our systems communicate with each other, and how all these new sensors that are all around us are gathering data about us.”
An alumna of the MIT Media Lab and a co-founder of the Open Hardware Summit, Bdeir was creating interactive art as a post-grad when she found herself more interested in the tools she used than in the outcome of her work.
Four years ago, littleBits was but a prototype Bdeir posted on her personal website. It was picked up by a friend, received some media attention, and soon she was receiving hundreds of pre-orders for a nonexistent product.
The company’s first seed round in September 2011 received $850K, led by investors including tech and open-source hardware pioneers Joi Ito and Nicholas Negroponte. The first kit was created and sold, and littleBits was officially up and running. Since then, littleBits has received more than $14 million in funding.
The New-York based startup has won 22 awards thus far and has grown to almost 30 employees. It currently offers 37 Bits modules, which are sold in nine different kits. To date, littleBits kits have been sold in 80 countries.
Watch the video above to see how Bdeir grew littleBits from an idea to one of the most ingenious companies in the field.
What do you think of littleBits? Tell us in the comments.